Walking around the seaport town of Newport, Rhode Island, feels like a dream. Not because it’s perfect (although, it is), but because you can never fully shake the feeling you’re moving through a movie set; a backdrop carefully curated for a period piece on how America’s elite summered in the 1980s.
Here, roads are bordered by stately oak trees and called Maple Drive or Pleasant St. Flawlessly manicured lawns stretch out before postcard villas that may differ in style and colour (Navy Victorians and ochre Colonials neighbour cream Romans and merlot Georgians) but share the same accessories; an American flag above the door, Chevrolet in the driveway, flower pot on the porch. Downtown is equally old-world charming, with ornate cottage-style shops, cobblestone streets and nautically-inspired decor. Like Auckland, it’s a city of sails, and more than a few sails in the bay are attached to mega-yachts owned by millionaires.
“To understand Rhode Island you gotta understand the Bay,” said Mark, a Newport local showing us around. “The bay is our fine jewel; we all have boats here and every weekend we’re out enjoying them.” The coastline’s legacy goes far beyond weekend boat trips, and was the foundation upon which the town was built. After becoming one of the five leading ports in the US during the 18th century, Newport boomed to support maritime trade.
A century later, it became the destination du jour for America's rich and famous, who spent their millions building gigantic mansions but maintained a connection to the sailing culture that continues today.
So, whether you love sailing, or are intrigued by the old-world ways of America's elite, here's how to spend 24 hours in this perfectly preppy town.
Learn the ropes at the Sailing Museum
Newport has a long maritime legacy, but its more recent history is on show at the Sailing Museum. As someone who has tried sailing once (and has the scar to prove it), I wasn’t exactly hanging out to wander around rooms of static diagrams and long-winded descriptions. So, I was pleasantly surprised by a single, large room packed with digital and interactive delights.
After snapping on a bracelet with a QR code, visitors are invited to wander around several stations where you can build, name and decorate your own boat, before completing virtual reality tasks like raising a mast or steering around a course. In between the screens, you can also take in several video projections, life-sized props and cases of quirky artefacts from sailing Hall of Fame members.
See sporting legends at the Newport Casino
To continue the sporting theme, make your next stop the Newport Casino, just a few doors down Bellevue Avenue. Despite the name, the complex was opened in the summer of 1880 as a social club where the Newport elite could play tennis, watch theatre, attend events and, of course, trade gossip. Today, however, it draws a very different crowd as the location of the International Tennis Hall of Fame.
Walking through the museum, we first pass through the literal hall dedicated to the stars of the sport. Of the 262 inductees across 27 countries, there is just one Kiwi, Anthony Wilding, who was inducted in 1978.
We pass dozens of life-sized vignettes and large displays that tell the story of tennis, from its humble beginnings as an elite hobby played with wooden bats and heavy white petticoats to the competitive sport featuring featherlight racquets and multimillion-dollar sponsorships. Whether you’re interested in the social rites of 19th century sport or the rise of celebrity athletes in the 60s, the politics of sports fashion or how women closed the tennis pay gap, there’s something here for everyone.
Tour the Mansions
Hot, bothered and looking for somewhere nice to summer, many wealthy New Yorkers made Newport their vacation spot in the 19th century. However, they weren’t about to stay in a humble seaport cottage, especially during the Gilded Age (a period of staggering materialism and political corruption in 1870s America). So they put fortunes forged from tobacco, margarine, oil and the like towards mansions of spectacular proportions. To say it became a matter of “keeping up with the Joneses” isn’t a metaphor; the Joneses not only had a house in Newport but supposedly owned the first personal car.
Today, most of the mansions are still owned by individuals (we’re pointed towards one that recently sold for a cool US$30 million), while others are owned by the Newport Restoration Society, and open for experiences to the public.
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One such house is the Breakers. Considered the grandest Newport mansion, the “intimate” 5ha property (for context, think of 13 rugby fields) was home to Mr and Mrs Cornelius Vanderbilt II and their seven children. At least, home for the summer. While not a history buff nor up to speed on the television series The Gilded Age, I couldn’t help but be fascinated by the obscene lavishness of the sprawling Renaissance Revival-style palace.
Walls of the “morning room” were papered in platinum and the library had a fireplace the size of my VW polo. A billiards room featured hand-laid mosaic tile flooring while the guest dining room (not to be confused with the personal dining room) had life-sized human sculptures on the ceiling, two massive Baccarat crystal chandeliers and red velvet curtains draped around alabaster archways. There’s enough gold in any given room to make your teeth hurt and to get lost between the rooms isn’t hard; there are at least 70. While walls don’t talk, the 45-minute audio tour offers some insightful stories about the Vanderbilts and their life of supreme affluence.
Walk Washington square and grab lunch at Bar ’Cino
A mooch along Broadway St takes you past the customary tourist shops that sell “nothing you need but everything you might want”, according to our guide. If you’re looking for an endless selection of items emblazoned with “Newport”, or nautical-themed homeware, you’ll find it here.
After shopping up an appetite, the southernmost end of the street finds you in the Historic District, and more importantly, at Bar ’Cino in Washington Square. Italian-inspired, the menu also draws flavours from Mexico and features stacked charcuterie boards, thin-crust pizzas, fresh pastas and incredible salads alongside an impressive craft cocktail menu. Just make sure you save room for dessert, which stars a fluffy pistachio-ricotta-cream layer cake and dense, rich tiramisu.
Wander along the Cliff Walk
To see the mansions from another point of view, and get some good ocean air in the lungs, take a stroll along the popular Cliff Walk. The 5.6km trail hugs the rugged coastline in a mix of pavement and rocky trail and offers views of the famous mansions, as well as the vast horizon and (if you’re lucky) some ocean wildlife.
The northern end starts by Easton’s Beach on Memorial Blvd but has several entrances/exists including Narragansett Ave, Webster St, Sheppard Ave, Ruggles Ave, Marine Ave and Ledge Rd, before popping out at Bellevue Ave. A brisk pace will complete the walk in around 2.5 hours but for a shorter stretch, try covering Narragansett Ave. to Ruggles Ave.
Grab a drink atop the Vanderbilt hotel
Round out the day with a well-earned drink on top of the Vanderbilt Hotel. Built by Cornelius II’s third son, the residence is a tad humbler than his father’s palace, and located downtown facing Newport Harbour, but was gifted to the city after completion in 1908. In the 1990s it began its life as a hotel and now features a trendy rooftop bar to match. After grabbing a drink on the top floor to take in the views, use the setting sun as an excuse to move indoors, where the ground floor bar is decked out with stylish vintage art and plush velvet seats.
DETAILS: RHODE ISLAND
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I would recommend a minimum of one full day in Newport, to take in a couple mansions, stroll through some shops or the Cliff Walk, and have a wonderful meal. That doesn't even include the Tennis HoF, the beach, or anything else.How long to stay in Newport? ›
Newport is the epitome of a seaside New England town. The sailboats, cold ocean water, old architecture, and lobster dishes, make it the perfect east coast getaway. Three days in Newport will give you enough time to explore, relax and see almost anything your heart desires!Is Newport Rhode Island worth visiting? ›
Newport, RI is the ultimate tourist destination, as it offers rich history, magnificent Gilded Age architecture, a vibrant art scene, miles of beaches, wonderful hiking trails, spectacular sailing and many festivals throughout the year.What is the number 1 attraction in Rhode Island? ›
The Breakers, Newport
Among the many, many opulent 19th and 20th century mansions located in Newport, The Breakers is by far the most popular. As a Rhode Island tourist attraction, it draws an estimated 300,000 visitors every year.
We suggest one and a half hours for each mansion, allowing time to enjoy the tour, explore the grounds and visit the Newport Mansions Stores.Can you get around Newport without a car? ›
While having a car can be helpful, especially if you want to take a self-guided Newport tour, but in general, you should be able to get around fine without one. Newport isn't an especially large city, and the public transportation is fairly robust.Is Newport RI a walkable city? ›
Newport is a walkable city thanks to the concentration of shops, restaurants, hotels and attractions in the downtown area.How do I spend a day in Newport Beach? ›
- Visit Balboa Island. ...
- Go Whale Watching. ...
- Explore the Balboa Peninsula. ...
- Watch the Surfers at The Wedge. ...
- Go Shopping at Lido Marina Village. ...
- View the Sherman Gardens.
Newport is famous for its mansions, built as summer homes in the 1850s to 1900 by wealthy tycoons of New York and Philadelphia. These massive houses, including the spectacular Rosecliff, Marble House, the Breakers, the Elms, Rough Point, are open to the public, offering fascinating and informative tours.What is the best time to visit Newport RI? ›
The best time to visit Newport is between March and May and from September to November. In May (the end of the spring season) and September (the start of the autumn season), mild temperatures and few rain showers mean you'll have ideal weather for exploring the city's famous mansions.
The best time to visit Rhode Island might shock you. It's in the fall between the months of September and October! This is for numerous reasons, including the great fall foliage, cooler weather, and smaller crowds than those you'd experience if you were to visit during the summer.What is special about Newport? ›
Newport is a beautiful seaside city in Rhode Island that is famous for its mansions, shopping, and scenery. Newport is also known for hosting the Newport Folk Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival and many other Festivals and Fairs.What is special about Newport RI? ›
Newport may be best known for its stunning Gilded Age mansions that were once home to famous families like the Vanderbilts, Kennedys, and Astors, but beyond its excessive exterior, the city and its surrounding area offer an enviable range of activities and destinations.How much does it cost to tour the Newport mansions? ›
Newport RI mansion tours ticket pricing fluctuates, but current 2022 ticket pricing is as follows: The Breakers: $29 per adult, $10 for youth 6-12. 1 Property (excluding The Breakers) $25 per adult, $10 for youth 6-12.What is the most famous food in Rhode Island? ›
This might be the most unique of all the famous food in Rhode Island. Also known as “stuffies,” these massive Quahog shells are quite the catch! Typically they're topped with a breaded mixture of Quahogs and spices. Depending on where you get this Rhode Island staple the flavors and fillings may vary.
The Breakers, pictured above, is one of the most popular Mansions in Newport and is the most visited landmark in Newport, RI. It's considered the grandest of Newport's “summer cottages” and stands as a dramatic reminder of the social and financial prowess of the Vanderbilt family in turn-of-the-century America.Is the Cliff Walk free? ›
Cliff Walk is free and open to the public.Can you do the Newport Cliff Walk at night? ›
A sign at Narragansett Avenue explains some of the rules of Newport's Cliff Walk. For safety, it is important to stay on the trail. The Cliff Walk is open from sunrise to sunset.Are buses still free in Newport? ›
Once again, Newport Transport will operate a free bus travel scheme for all passengers travelling within the Newport City boundaries between the 1st and 31st of March 2022.Is the trolley in Newport free? ›
The free service, funded by Discover Newport and the Episcopal Diocese of Rhode Island, offers transportation around Newport to tourist destinations and beaches.
In summer, especially weekends, Newport tends to be congested with traffic and on-street parking is difficult to find. Visitors are encouraged to park at the Newport Gateway Center at 23 America's Cup Avenue. The City also operates the Mary Street lot, between Mary and Church Streets.How long is Cliff Walk round trip? ›
What makes Cliff Walk unique is that it is a National Recreation Trail in a National Historic District. In 1975 the walk was designated as a National Recreation Trail... the 65th in the nation and first in New England. The walk runs 3.5 miles and about two-thirds of the walk is in easy walking condition.What should I wear to Newport Cliff Walk? ›
In order to make it from the beginning to the end of the walk without your ankles screaming, wear a comfortable pair of walking/running shoes to keep you light on your feet. Areas of the Cliff Walk offer climbing, terrain, and dirt. Another note; don't wear your brand new pair of white Nikes.Can you sleep in your car in Newport Beach? ›
No Overnight Camping/Sleeping in Cars or RV's. Vehicles may park up to 7 days without exiting the lot. Maximum length of vehicle is 40 feet.What is there to do in Newport Beach at night? ›
- Enjoy a Romantic Gondola Ride. ...
- Take a Walk on the Beach. ...
- Savor Local Cuisine. ...
- Grab a Drink at a Local Bar. ...
- Relax on a Sunset Cruise. ...
- Watch the Sunset From Your Vacation Rental.
1. Corona Del Mar. Known for being the “Crown of the Sea,” Corona del Mar is one of the best neighborhoods in Newport Beach. This area is a delightful mixture of vibrant and relaxed, making it the best place to live in Newport Beach, California.Do any famous people live in Newport RI? ›
Larry Ellison, the Oracle founder who is said to have spend more than $100 million renovating Beechwood, his home in Newport, Rhode Island. Ellison's arrival in Newport coincides with two other famous faces buying property in the area: “Judge Judy” Sheindlin and comedian Jay Leno.Is Newport RI a party town? ›
Newport offers a wide array of nightlife ranging from small neighborhood bars to pubs, taverns, dance clubs and live music venues.Is Providence or Newport more fun? ›
Newport has a much greater wow factor with the cliff walk, mansions, ocean views etc along with several great restaurants. Providence offers some wonderful history, an enjoyable and compact downtown, good restaurants and some decent shopping. I'd choose one to stay in and visit the other as a day trip.Can you go to Newport Beach at night? ›
Newport Beach includes more than eight miles of beaches that stretch from the Santa Ana River jetty to Crystal Cove State Park and border Newport Bay. All ocean and bay front beaches are open to the public from the hours of 6 a.m. until 10 p.m. Crystal Cove State Park beaches close at sunset.
Newport Beach exudes class and elegance. This beachfront city is popular among yachters, sailors, anglers, surfers and anyone looking for a relaxed trip filled with sunshine. No trip to Newport Beach is complete without a whale watching trip – it's one of the best places for whale watching in the country.How long do you spend at Newport Aquarium? ›
Newport Aquarium takes two-four hours to visit every exhibit. Please check out our website for activities and events that are happening during your planned visit.How long is the ferry ride from Providence to Newport? ›
The beautiful one-hour ride takes passengers down the coast of Rhode Island, under the Newport Bridge and ends on America's Cup Avenue in Newport. Bristol stops and departures are again available on weekends.What is the rainiest month in Rhode Island? ›
The driest month in Providence is July with 3.17 inches of precipitation, and with 4.43 inches March is the wettest month.What do people do for fun in Rhode Island? ›
From beaches, and boating, to art, history, and dining, to hiking, biking, and bouldering, there is truly something for everyone. We've got all of the fun, culture, luxury, and artistic ethos of a big city mixed with a cool, laid-back coastal vibe and a dash of historic, old New England charm.How much does it cost to see the Newport mansions? ›
Newport RI mansion tours ticket pricing fluctuates, but current 2022 ticket pricing is as follows: The Breakers: $29 per adult, $10 for youth 6-12. 1 Property (excluding The Breakers) $25 per adult, $10 for youth 6-12.Is street parking free in Newport RI? ›
On-Street Parking Meters
On-street metered parking is located on specific streets throughout downtown Newport and along Memorial Blvd. at Easton's Beach. Parking at an on-street metered space is limited to a maximum of three hours and the rate is $1.25 per hour.
Larry Ellison, the Oracle founder who is said to have spend more than $100 million renovating Beechwood, his home in Newport, Rhode Island. Ellison's arrival in Newport coincides with two other famous faces buying property in the area: “Judge Judy” Sheindlin and comedian Jay Leno.Which Newport mansion was The Great Gatsby filmed at? ›
With its celebrated heart-shaped grand staircase and the largest ballroom in Newport, this elegant mansion overlooking the Atlantic Ocean recalls lost Gilded Age summers filled with extravagant parties like the one featured in 1974's The Great Gatsby, which filmed scenes at Rosecliff.